Susan Jane Allen

title.none: Rosenwein, Negotiating Space (Susan Jane Allen)

identifier.other: baj9928.0206.010 02.06.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Susan Jane Allen, Hood College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Rosenwein, Barbara. Negotiating Space: Power, Restraint, and Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. Pp. xxii, 267. $18.95. ISBN: 8-801-48521-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.06.10

Rosenwein, Barbara. Negotiating Space: Power, Restraint, and Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. Pp. xxii, 267. $18.95. ISBN: 8-801-48521-5.

Reviewed by:

Susan Jane Allen
Hood College

Barbara Rosenwein's Negotiating Space: Power, Restraint, and Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe seeks to define, qualify and understand the function and context of early medieval immunities. It is a much needed and long overdue analysis, countering outdated notions on the relationship of secular and ecclesiastical power, and the blanket assumptions which historians have traditionally made about this practice. Rosenwein not only examines the privilege of immunities, but also that of exemptions. Both are clearly defined and brought into the realm of modern historical research. As Rosenwein points out, it had been the custom to use such charters within the domain of diplomatics. Useful as this application might have been, it had the consequence of binding these documents to a mode of scholarship that did not allow for a broader understanding of their context and implication. Rosenwein's aim, therefore, is to look beyond their overt function and "show how they are rich and polyvalent sources, how they serve social and political strategies far beyond their surface meanings". (5)

In a skillful introduction, she details the complexity of immunities, noting the myriad ways in which they developed over time and with regard to differing circumstances. Rosenwein rightly draws attention to the "chameleon-like character" of these charters, which were in a constant state of change and were thus open to reinterpretation. Her offering of the conventional definition of an immunity, that of "a document-- initially a royal document that prohibited the king's agents from entering onto certain lands to collect taxes and carry out judicial functions", and the immunities and privileges represented by this, clearly demonstrates its limitations. Not only does this narrow description ignore the variations and developments cited by Rosenwein, but it also disregards the benefits which, as she goes on to demonstrate, such documents bring to modern historical scholarship. Included in this examination are exemptions, which are comparable with immunities in their intricacy, diversity and relevance to the institutions and conventions that created them.

Central to Rosenwein's work is her assertion that while previous historians "believed such documents gave away power" (6), current thinking sees these charters as indicators of strength. She further supports this view by noting the way in which immunities and exemptions allowed rulers, churchmen and others in authority to "maintain their positions as pivotal and central figures in the lives of key families, ...friends...warriors, and religious figures". (6) Observing that the very origin of the word "immunities" implies a sense of gift as well as an obligation, Rosenwein argues that immunities serve to enhance the manipulative power of the giver, enabling him to influence and control alliances among his supporters, be they secular or ecclesiastical.

True, they are gifts, but what Rosenwein clearly shows is that bound to these gifts--to this apparent loss of resources--is an equally binding set of prohibitions. Again she interprets this as a strength rather than a weakness. Immunities work to circumscribe the actions and authority of a ruler's agents, and in particular their ability to enter onto certain lands. Rosenwein argues, "...does not the very expression of restraint announce the power of the king?" (7) Rosenwein sees this power as threefold: "...first, it is a declaration of self-control; second, it is an affirmation of royal control over public agents and their jurisdiction; third, it is an announcement of control over the configuration of space". (7)

As for methodology, while acknowledging other approaches to the study of immunities, Rosenwein has concentrated on the environment in which these charters were issued and their role in the "religious politic" of medieval rulers. This book seeks to show the manifold ways in which immunities were conceived, negotiated, and manipulated when they were issued or confirmed, locating these 'acts of state' in specific religious, social, and political contexts. (9) She accomplishes this by means of a thorough chronological examination of immunities, beginning with Late Antiquity and moving through the Merovingian and Carolingian periods (including Carolingian Italy).

Here, in the body of Rosenwein's work, the depth of scholarship is impressive, as is her analysis of the implications of immunities. In addition to drawing together political and governmental developments, she also provides an original framework in which to gauge contemporary events within the ecclesiastical sphere. Her discussion of the Carolingian concept of protection is particularly worthy of note as it clearly demonstrates how immunities could be adapted to new concepts of authority and government. Her thorough grasp of the material and clear understanding of this issue permits her to employ current anthropological theory to explain the burden of power and the interrelationship of control and responsibility. Refreshingly, in this and other discussions, she does not feel compelled to lapse into jargon and thus her points are both lucid and balanced.

It is, however, Rosenwein's conclusions on the diverse employment of immunities that distinguishes Negotiating Space from earlier works on this subject. Her detailed examination of individual immunities and documents related to them provides fascinating insight into the intent and significance behind each document. Moreover, her footnotes offer the reader a wealth of information on related issues such as asylum, and demonstrate the full range of current thought and work in these areas.

If there is anything that weakens Rosenwein's book it is perhaps the inclusion of her final chapter, ''A Man's House is His Castle'--Anglo-American Echoes'' which tries to draw a direct line from early medieval politics to the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. This concern does perhaps reflect the narrow view of a medievalist who feels uneasy about such a stretch, and to be fair, this final chapter is a carefully measured attempt to trace the progression of immunities and their subsequent relevance to modern political thought.

Certainly the strength of Rosenwein's book is that it can be read on many levels and by those in numerous fields of study. In her acknowledgments Rosenwein expresses the hope that the book can and will be read by her college-age sons. It is certainly a book which can be understood by perceptive undergraduates, but it should also appeal to a wide range of scholars--those interested in legal history, anthropology, political theory, as well as students of the early Middle Ages. The final chapter may well grate on the medievalist's finer feelings, but it also serves to speak to those wishing a broader view. The book's particular appeal to the specialist lies in Rosenwein's meticulous assembly of primary and secondary sources and her copious and detailed notes. Because of this, Negotiating Space is an essential starting point for those wishing to bring themselves up to date on the range and depth of scholarship in this field, as well as to benefit from Rosenwein's original approach to the study of these documents.